1970s Executions

Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
January 17, 1977 Utah Ben Bushnell
Max David Jensen
Gary Gilmore executed

On Monday, July 19, 1976, Max Jensen went to work as usual at the self-service gas station in Orem, Utah. That night, Gary Gilmore had a spat with his girlfriend and went driving with her mentally unstable younger sister, April. At around 10:30 pm he told April he wanted to make a phone call. He left her in the truck and walked away. Gilmore went around the corner, out of her sight, and into the Sinclair service station. He spotted the attendant and quickly saw that no one else was around. He walked up to Max Jensen and pulled out a.22 Browning Automatic. He instructed Max to empty his pockets, which the young Mormon quickly did. Then he told Max to go into the bathroom and lie down on the floor with his arms under his body. Jensen obeyed but inexplicably, Gilmore put the gun close to Jensen’s head. "This one is for me," he said, and fired. Then he placed the muzzle right against Jensen’s skull and shot him once again, this time "for Nicole." (his girlfriend) Gilmore spent the night with April at a motel and the following night, he walked into the City Center Motel in Provo, not far from Brigham Young University. He confronted the attendant, Ben Bushnell, who lived on the premises with his wife and baby. Gilmore told Ben to give him the cash box and get down on the floor. Then he shot Ben in the head. Ben‘s wife came in, so Gilmore grabbed the cash box and left. Trying to dispose of the gun in a nearby bush, Gilmore shot himself in the hand. By Wednesday, Gilmore’s cousin turned him into the police. Gilmore gave up near a roadblock without a fight. At first, he denied the murders, but later admitted both. In October, Gilmore was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. He chose death by firing squad, waived all appeals and was executed just 6 months after the murders. Gilmore was the first person executed in the U.S. in almost 10 years. His last words were, “Let’s do it.”

Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
May 25, 1979 Florida Joseph Szymankiewicz John Spenkelink executed

On May 25, 1979, John Spenkelink, 30, was put to death for the 1973 slaying of Joseph Szymankiewicz in a Tallahassee motel room. Joseph, 45 years old, had been shot twice and beaten in the head with a hatchet after Spenkelink said the man forced him at gunpoint to commit a homosexual act. Spenkelink escaped from a California prison in 1972, where he was serving a 5-years-to-life sentence for robbing a fast-food restaurant, 5 gas stations and 2 people. In the Florida case, Spenkelink rejected a plea bargain to spare his life. He was convicted and sentenced to death.

Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
October 22, 1979 Nevada David Ballard, 22 Jesse Bishop executed

Jesse Bishop, convicted of murder in a Las Vegas casino robbery, was the last person to be executed by lethal gas in Nevada, in 1979. Since then, all executions have been by lethal injection. Bishop confessed to the 1977 killing of Baltimore newlywed David Ballard, 22, during a robbery of the El Morocco Casino on the Strip. A casino shift manager who survived after Bishop shot him in the stomach, testified that Bishop shot Ballard "like a dog."

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Page last updated 08/28/08